domingo, 5 de junho de 2011

Travel log - Europe - Day 13

Day 13 - One should have studied it better

So, here I was. Ready to explore a whole new country, a different language, far from whatever I had studied or had contact before. Alright, the alphabet is Latin, but it was quite an experience.
I tried to wake up but I didn’t even manage to move the blanket. Maybe half an hour more? One hour later, I was leaving. I decided to take a picture of the name of the street and the building. Just in case I got lost when I wanted to return. I headed the same way back to the station. There was a church and a square next to where my host lived. There were some small stores and grocery stores around. As I got to the station, I decided not to get the subway. I wanted to go walking to the center of the city, there was no sign but anyway I felt like walking. And I kept walking and following my instincts to get farther and farther. I could not see anything like a big building or whatever, but I knew I was going to the right place. And in less than 20 minutes I got to the center.
The streets, the buildings started to change from the colorful low buildings to some bigger, ornamented buildings, the first tower was seen.

As soon as I arrived downtown, I saw a street fair with magnets, handicraft and many other things. I felt like buying some paintings but god knew how I would never be able to carry it (or them). I bought a Prague hood, and it would be a present for sure (which I kept to myself).
Then I decided to start visiting some places. There was some sunshine but the wind was cold. It was about time I entered somewhere to get warm. The Kubist Museum was the first place visited. I had learned to respect the avant-guards since the wonderful visits to Magritte and Dali. It was very pleasant and the museum was almost empty. I loved the Cubist furniture, and felt my furniture was so ordinary.

Very soon I arrived at the central square. The cathedral was sitting there, magnanimously. A lot of tourists around. I saw the astronomical clock, there was a bride and a groom, I think they are always there only for tourists to take pictures. There were other important and different buildings. I saw the river and the bridge but I decided to stay in one side of the river and crossing for some exploration only after lunch. By the way, it was almost 1pm and I was getting hungry. As I had to choose for myself where I was eating, I had been paying attention to that since I had arrived downtown. In fact, I had already chosen a restaurant to go. One which had its menu written on the window, with some special ink. I had liked the place and I wanted there to be the first restaurant I was in Prague. So I tried to walk back the same way I had come from. But there were so many small streets, almost alleys. What could I do to find it? I could not ask because I had not paid attention to the NAME of the place. But hey, not many have the menus written on windows, right? None. Let’s keep walking. For almost an hour! Hunger was taking over and I felt cold and tired. I decided to be a bit more flexible and give up looking for the restaurant. I entered the first one I saw and sat. There was no table for one. Only for two or four. There was a group of Americans near me, and some French friends. I kept staring at the chair across from the table and I could not believe there was nobody there. I ordered some pasta and pork steaks and while I waited I took off my coat. A suggestion is never to sit near the door, because keeping the coat on makes you feel too hot and taking it off makes you chill as people enter or leave. And while I was waiting the radio was playing some very nice songs like Michael Jackson’s “Your not alone” and Enya’s “Sail away”. Is it very impolite or disrespectful to etiquette to cry in restaurants?
Anyway, the food was tasty and I was ready to face the cold again,after some soup and wine.
I left the restaurant still a bit annoyed for it was not exactly what I wanted to have, where I wanted to be. But I headed for the bridge, the most famous of them all, Carlos bridge or Karluv most.

In this picture, I managed to get some details of the bridge, the people and part of the city. As I was crossing the bridge I saw a banner of the Kafka museum. I was not a big fan of him, having read the Metamorphosis, Letter to father and some short stories, but as a student of literature, I felt compelled to go there and learn a bit more about him. So the matter now was to find out how I could get there.
The museum was very easy to find as there was a banner I could see from the bridge. When I found it, there were some statues of two men pissing. It was not as famous as the pissing boy we DIDN’T see in Brussels, but it was nice because I got a picture of a guy “helping” the statue. After that, at night Jiři told me these guys were made by an important and controversial Czech artist, David Cerný.

Then I entered the museum. It was a delicious surprise. It was quite different from other experiences in museums: the lights, the way the manuscripts, his biography were scattered around the rooms of a two-storey house was remarkable. There were sounds, some pictures in a small structure with water, resembling a river. It was not so cheap to enter, but definitely worth it. There was a room in which one wall was a mirror, whose meaning I could not grasp (there was a relation to a certain novel).

As I left the museum, it was getting dark. I wanted to go places the other side of the bridge, but it was also colder. Colder than I had imagined. So I decided to walk back to the station I had seen and take the subway to return. Walking home in that cold didn’t seem the smartest thing to do. On my way to the station I entered a different street and there I was, in the middle of one Christmas fair. It was crowded and some guys were playing some medieval-like songs. I had some hot wine and it made me feel better for another 10 minutes. I saw the black house which had been Kafka’s house. It is so different to walk around a place after visiting a museum or reading more than I had about it.
In no time I returned “home”. My host was already there and he introduced me to one of his roommates, Vlastin. He was a friendly and intelligent guy, though he had the tendency or mania to intimidate the guests before showing how nice he was. I guess it was a kind of test. Or his charms, depending on from what perspective you look at it.
I had some tea, what later became a tradition. It was miraculous, it was really cold. (I learned later Prague had the coldest temperatures of all my trip).
Jiři let me use his computer and I could send messages to home and check on Carol. I looked around and I still could not believe she was not there, sitting on the other bed and rambling about how Kafka this or how that guy on the subway that.
But as she had told me, I was supposed to have a lot of fun, so I engaged in conversation with my Czech host and those evenings with him were so energizing, so peaceful. His way to look at life, or how he was learning Chinese because of his girlfriend. And the way he so promptly answered my questions. We talked about everything. And he taught me some Czech. I would be able to understand all the different symbols and pronounce any word correctly. Thanks to my lessons of linguistics and his patience, I could read well though I had no idea what I was reading.
Then, we went to a bar nearby. He told me it would be a noisy and cigarette-stinky experience. But I guess the cold had prevented people from leaving their houses. The bar was half-empty and not so noisy so we could talk a lot. I was there with the two boys and a girl who was a friend of Vlastin’s. The night would have been perfect, had we not started a game. It was a kind of quiz. Jiři asked his friends what they knew about Brazil. Of course the traditional Carnival and soccer came first, but they knew a lot of other things about Brazil. Paulo Coelho had just released a book there and Jiři had read him. So far, so good. Then, the game was inverted and they asked me (after having some Czech drinks to taste) what I knew about the Czech Republic. I started thinking and nothing came to my mind. Nervousness removed all the remaining ideas. Seeing my hesitation, they tried to help. “So, let’s start with the basics, what’s the capital?”, he asked. I started thinking. He added: “This one is difficult”. I was so nervous I did not read the irony in his tone of voice. I thought” “difficult?! like Australia or Canada maybe, everyone thinks the capital is one city and it is another”. And the first city which came to my mind was Cracow. And I said that. Total failure. They laughed a lot and told me it might be if Cracow was in the Czech Republic and not in Poland. I wanted to hide my head in the earth... After that, the big intellectual discovered he was IN the capital of the country. And a lot of things started coming to my mind: Milan Kundera, Prague Winter, Czech cinema. But I feeling so down because of my stupid mistake I wanted to make up somehow.
Another interesting thing that happened that night was that in the toilet, in the urinals they had put some slices of orange and lemon. I had never seen that even in Brazil, only ice or some kind of small balls for that purpose. And Jiři had noticed that and said we were pissing on orange that night but his grandfather had told him stories of how he was happy to get one orange as Christmas gift, when he was young. This made me wonder and hate Stalin (and what he represented) a bit more. After more talking, I couldn’t hate anyone because I was too busy snoring. =)

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